‘The Midi fires the senses; makes your hand agile, your eye sharp, your brain clearer,’ wrote Van Gogh.
People seem to feed off an energy in the Languedoc that translates to creative endeavors. Is it a coincidence that so many us live here; entrepreneurs from all over the world who have found their home in the warm southern sun.
‘My Expat Life’ is a series where we get to know expats living in France and share their stories.
What brings people to this region? Some come to retire, others look for something their country does not offer and others still- want to experience the rich culture of France.
Some of the people who move here permanently, find innovative forms of income from canal boat barge companies, and rental homes to the creative arts like painting, or music. From the artisan vendors who make jewelry and crafts, to online work using social media and websites. Not matter where we are from or what we do, we have one thing in common, Southern France.
Do you want to share your story in the ‘My Expat Life’ series? Please contact Eva at firstname.lastname@example.org I thought it only reasonable to share our story first and give people a sense of what we are after.
My Expat Life – Maple Syrup + Paprika = Foie Gras
Our family came here from White Rock, British Columbia; the most southern point of the west coast of Canada. A strikingly beautiful yet damp area with mild temperatures and 50% precipitation. Alfonz, my husband, and I dreamed of a better climate and a home based business. But there was more to it than that. We craved a deep rooted community, a rich culture, beautiful natural surroundings. We wanted out of the rapid paced stressful life we were living; where being stuck in rush hour traffic for hours was normal, the endless wanting the latest and greatest things encompassed our culture and the prices in the lower mainland are astronomical. We wanted more meaning, less commercialism. We wanted organic and authentic lives.
So we sold everything. Packed up our bags and moved to Europe. We were chasing our dreams.
After exploring Europe for four months with our kids in tow, we simply fell in love with this region. The endless miles of vine covered landscape change its colours each season. In Spring the vivid green shoots are a welcome sign that good weather is on its way. They hang heavy with ripened fruit by summer’s end, ready for harvest come Fall. The leaves change to red during the cooler nights of Autumn and in the Winter the leaves fall away and the dry vines reach for the sky; each as beautiful as the last season in its own way.
The light here is indescribable, almost iridescent, and brings artists from all over the world. Until I experienced my first golden nearly orange sunset I had no idea what they were talking about. There was this one time I went for a midnight swim to watch the meteor shower over head and the moon hung so low I could almost touch it. It’s moments like these that you feel you have arrived to your destination.
Why France? ‘France is still the number one tourist destination in the world, probably since it has managed to maintain its identity and culture through its history. It still has a relatively strong economy. Compared to places like Hungary where we have another home. Although dynamic and a beautifully clean city along the blue Danube River; we quickly realized it was nearly impossible to start a new life. We wanted a location with a strong tourist drive, a unique experience for tourists and perhaps the opportunity to make more than just a summer income. In this south western region of France, real estate prices were still affordable compared to the neighbouring Cote D’Azur. That swayed our decision when we bought our home in the traditional village of Capestang.
It took time to get used to business hours, the long school vacation breaks and of course the new language. Surprisingly we quickly assimilated and culture shock was thankfully short lived.
In France our family found some things much harder to figure out. Renovating a home and learning about the materials used was a big change from renovating in Canada. Learning a new language at forty is far more difficult than in your twenties. And starting a business in France takes determination with all the red-tape involved. It is all part of the learning curve when moving to a new country, although we knew what we were up against, the level of intensity our first year was still unexpected.
Back home Alfonz was a business owner and I worked for 20 years in a large grocery chain in the customer service/management field. Here Alfonz and I own Le Petit Platane, which is a little apartment attached to our home and a chambre d’hôte inside our house for travellers. It has always been my dream to own and operate a Bed and Breakfast. Alfonz started South Westy Tours, and is affiliated with Vin en Vacance taking guests on wine tours around the region. Our favourite part is meeting people from all over, fellow wanderlusts that enjoy exploring the world.
I joined the Capestang International Choir to meet people and to continue singing; however having children is an automatic connection to any community. They make adapting easy and through play dates and local events we became part of our community.
Eventually that led me to Pierre Polard and along side of 22 other members we ran in his campaign for mayor. Although frustrating at times with my limited French, I love being a municipal councilor at the town hall working under Sylvie Gisbert, deputy in charge of tourism, communication and our local festivals.
Our family feels safe in Capestang; everyone knows us, the children ride their bikes, and we walk everywhere. Everyone meets up at the café on market day when we shop the local venders. During festivals the whole community turns up and celebrates together from the oldest grandmother to the youngest baby. I love this part of my adopted community.
The French stereotype about the French being rude has never been my experience. I find the southern French people warm hearted and generous.
The hardest thing about moving to France is getting things done; Carte Vitale, CPAM, building permits, driver’s license…etc. I am not sure if Canada runs at mach speed or if France is at normal speed, either way, this just becomes part of life. C’est la vie, as they say, such is life!
I love to cook and even with the finest ingredients available to me, there are a few things from Canada that I miss; Hy’s Seasoning Salt (I now make my own), Safeway brand organic peanut butter, and lucerne cottage cheese. I also miss our family. Although Skype makes this part easier. Without modern technology I am not sure we could have survived our first year in France. Minus the translation program and Internet, we may have turned around straight away.
My advice to other expats is to keep your eye on the prize. There are bumps on the road to success, nevertheless stick to the plan and give France a fair chance before giving up. I would rather fail knowing I gave it my all and no matter what happens, I will never regret moving to France.
Currently I am working on publishing my book on our experiences during our first year in France as well as the ‘My Expat Life’ series. Our family hopes to stay here permanently and we want our children to grow up in this close-knit community.
Daniel 12 and Angelina 10 love our new life, speak fluent French, English and Hungarian, and are very good in school. It wasn’t an easy transition, especially for Daniel, (who’s now started German, language #4), nevertheless we were determined to make things work. If you ask them now, they would never choose to leave Capestang.
A long way from Canada, we feel perfectly at home in southern France. By checking out of the North American rat race, sure, we gave up the big house, the fancy cars, the designer clothes, and the days at the spa. And although sometimes I so miss the spa, we try to strike a balance between what we need and what we want.
Arriving here with two suitcases and a theory of time currency, we honestly believe time has more value than money. We found the slower paced life we were searching for, where we live on less, but focus on what really matters.